Wisdom for the Winter Season

Wisdom for the Winter Season
Winter is the coldest season, but on the subtle level it’s a time of rest, peace, inner focus, stillness, and reflection. You will gain a lot by focusing your meditation on these values. The flow of life naturally slows down and turns inward in this season, and it strains the physiology to resist this rhythm. Thoreau put it beautifully: "Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each."

In practical terms this means favoring warmer, heartier, nourishing foods in winter. This is a season where the cold can increase Vata dosha in everyone and make your body vulnerable to disorders due to Vata imbalance, particularly colds and flu. Balance is always the key, and the deepest, most profound source of balance for all three doshas comes in your daily meditation.

Silent meditation is the perfect vehicle for attuning yourself to the rhythm of every season, including winter. You will know you’re attuned in winter when you notice the following:

  • You find the cold bracing and invigorating.
  • You feel more inward in wintertime with enjoyment of the extra rest you give yourself.
  • Your body feels warm and nourished.
  • You have sharp perceptions (a sign of healthy Vata).
  • You find your sleep naturally extends a little more than usual.
The holiday season occurs in winter for good reason, because winter is about consolidating your inner values and core strength. Where the other seasons send you off to go your separate ways—your energy wants to go outward the rest of the year—festive meals of the holidays and family gathering are a time of drawing together.

You don’t have to dwell on these things in your meditation, which is about deep silence. By having them in mind, however, you are subtly asking your awareness to adapt itself a certain way.

Draw Inward to Improve Your Outer Life

Silence is productive; it’s here to enhance your outer life, too. One of the most productive things it can do for you is to correct some of the problems that people typically encounter in winter, especially in colder climates. These include:

  • Feeling heavy, sluggish, or dull.
  • Becoming depressed.
  • Finding it hard to be motivated.
  • Associating the holidays with loneliness or family conflicts.
  • Feeling stressed by holiday crowds, particularly when the weather turns.
For many people, these things merge amorphously into the “winter blues,” but in reality they are separate issues. Each should be approached in the spirit of healing. Healing occurs when you bring the level of the solution up to the surface rather than letting issues fester at the level of the problem.

How Your Brain Responds to Negative Input

Your tactic with any problem should focus on input and output to your brain. Your brain has connections, neural networks, and patterns of activity for every conditioned habit you experience, whether it’s physical or mental. Depression, for example, is so intricate and personal that every person is depressed in their own way, once you examine what is happening in the brain and even through the expression of genes.

This fact gives us an opening to change the old conditioning, which means altering the input into the brain in order to experience different output. This sounds abstract, I know, but your brain changes with every experience. If you go Christmas shopping when you’re on the verge of catching a cold, fighting the crowds at the mall, driving on slippery icy roads, and parking miles away on the fringes of the parking lot, each of these experiences registers in your brain. The brain recognizes only negative input and positive input. Everything I’ve described is negative input.

If you have conditioned yourself to put up with negative input and keep reinforcing it time and again, your brain will adapt to the input you’ve provided. That’s why, if you look at your responses objectively, you’ll see yourself responding to winter this year much the same way you did last year, with a familiar pattern of emotions and attitudes. In a word, you are letting your brain dictate to you when you should be the author of your own life, down to each moment of the day.

How to Send Positive Signals to Your Brain

What can you do to change? Sit down with a piece of paper and list three qualities about winter, as you experience them, which you want to change. The following possibilities are common:

  • Heavy
  • Dull
  • Sad
  • Depressed
  • Gloomy
  • Cold
  • Exhausted
Pick basic qualities that persist rather than generalizations like “sick of my relatives at Christmas” or “hate holiday shopping.” We want to get at the kind of basic input you are sending to your brain.

Now, take the first quality you want to change—say, “dull.” Under this word, list the kind of input that makes your life dull in winter. The following might come up:

  • I’m stuck inside and can’t get out enough.
  • There’s nothing to do but sit around.
  • I eat too much.
  • I’m bored—watching TV and being on the computer don’t help.
  • The cold slows me down too much.
  • People around me seem sluggish.
  • It’s bleak and uninviting outside.
  • The same people surround me every day.
Each of these complaints involves some kind of input that gets repeated. This creates a feedback loop—the more you tell yourself you’re bored, the more bored you get. The more you complain about being stuck indoors, the more stifling it feels. These are all interpretations rooted in your perception, after all, some people are delighted to be indoors more than usual and welcome seeing their family more.

Now bring the solution to the surface. When you finish meditating and feel centered, look at your list of complaints. In a calm, self-possessed frame of mind, create new inputs. Don’t let your old conditioning distract you. If negative thoughts crop up, take a deep breath until you feel centered, and continue.

The whole point here is to prove to yourself that consciousness is more powerful than the brain.

Your brain can’t think of new input, only your mind can. Your list of new inputs might contain the following:

  • Walk in the sunshine for 10 minutes every day it’s sunny.
  • Walk in a really cheerful place when it’s cloudy, such as a park of arboretum where the trees are majestic in winter.
  • Spend regular time with the most cheerful people I know.
  • Take up a light recreational sport at the community center.
  • Mentor a young person.
  • Plan a dream vacation in every detail, living it through beautiful photos and magazine articles so that it feels as real as possible.
  • Turn quiet time alone into something inspiring by reading spiritual books or poetry.
  • Write letters, making each as entertaining as possible to the recipient.
These are all energizing options, the very opposite of dull. And that’s the key. Find inputs that are complete opposites of the conditioning that keeps you stuck in a negative situation.

Meditation, then, is the key to moving outward, not just inward. You go to the source of creativity, bliss, and intelligence when you meditate. They are productive qualities of consciousness, and they support you when you call upon them. Calling upon them happens in outer life. In a beautiful way, winter is the best time of year to learn how productive inner silence can be, because it’s the time of year when nature gathers itself inwardly. Follow its rhythm, not passively, but as an avenue to deepening your life experience.